Archives For Communication

imagineRecently, I was attending my home church and listening to the guest speaker’s message. He started out by asking everyone to close their eyes. He said, “Picture a used car salesman. Picture a librarian. Picture a sumo wrestler.” Then, he said, “Picture a spiritual person.”

He went back and addressed each one. He asked the congregation, “What did you see when you pictured a used car salesman… a librarian… a sumo wrestler…?” And with each one he described the stereotypes and asked people to raise their hands if they pictured the same thing.

Then he asked, “What does a spiritual person look like? How many of you pictured Billy Graham? How many of you pictured Mother Teresa?” Then, like a brilliant communicator, he asked, “How many of you pictured yourself when I asked you to picture a spiritual person?” 

He went on from there, but I was so proud of the preacher and here’s why: Over the past 12 years when I have spoken at pastors and leadership conferences, I have urged pastors to, “Paint a picture with your words. Don’t underestimate the power of imagination.” 

“Imagination is more important that knowledge.” —Albert Einstein

This reality really hit home for me several years ago. I was doing some consulting with Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. I had done a seminar and training for their entire creative, worship, and tech leadership team. Their worship pastor at the time, Todd Bell, invited me back to speak to their entire teaching team (they had several teaching pastors plus interns), including Pastor Jack Graham, who at that time was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I had prepared a class based on using visual aids, video clips, and illustrations to enhance your message and was ready to go when God interrupted me the night before. God, in His gentle whisper, reminded me Jack Graham is heard on the radio all over the world and all of what I was prepared to teach on wouldn’t apply to those simply listening on the radio and not able to see a video clip.

God laid it on my heart I should include the part on imagination I had taught at previous conferences. I added it in last second and thanked God for redirecting my good intentions. Something I said to them and I say at every conference I speak at, is to not be afraid of having your video screens go to black and then say something like, “Close your eyes and listen as I read this story.” or “Close your eyes and listen as I read this passage of Scripture.”

The honest truth is too many communicators rely too much on tech; they’re lazy in their preparation and it shows. If you were to preach on a Sunday when the power went out and you couldn’t use any visuals, PowerPoint or videos, and your sermon fell apart, you’re basically admitting you had nothing to say. Videos and graphics are supplemental enhancements—they can’t be the meat of what you communicate. Read those last two sentences again.

Please know I’m all for using media and have taught on it widely, but I always caution my audience to not let the “tail wag the dog.” You should never say, “Hey, I found this cool video clip. Let’s build a message around it.” This way is backwards. Plan to preach what God has laid on your heart, rooted in Scripture, and if there happens to be a video clip which supports or illustrates one of your points, great! But it must be in a supporting role.

However, you may just find that asking people to close their eyes and imagine what you’re describing is more powerful than any picture or video you could show.

Not only is Jesus the perfect model for leadership, He is the perfect model for communication. Jesus was the greatest preacher who ever lived. You only have to read the gospels once to see how Jesus captured the imaginations of all who came to hear Him. Jesus understood if you can capture one’s imagination, it will take them on a glorious adventure and have far greater impact than a picture or video we try to show them. Jesus, through parables, led people on a journey of discovery and insight by using words and illustrations which got across the message He was trying to teach.

Often, I’ve used the example of Moses parting the Red Sea. I’ve asked classrooms full of people to close their eyes and picture the giant walls of water on each side of them, with fishes, whales, and sea creatures swimming about, but not breaking through the walls of water. Then, I would show them a drawing of Moses parting the Red Sea which some artist came up with and I’d ask: “Which was better? What you saw in your mind or this picture of a drawing?” It was always what they had pictured in their mind.

“We can apply this understanding to our own creative efforts at many levels. On the most superficial level, we learn from the prophets that the tools best suited for communicating to the imagination are image, parables and sometimes even bizarre activity! At a deeper level, we learn that if we are to effect permanent change in people’s hearts, we must do more than simply teach them facts or reduce them to some emotional experience. Like the prophets, we must learn to reach out to the heart as well as the mind by speaking to the imagination. We must allow our audience the freedom to make realizations on their own, as with the parables of the prophets, particularly the prophet Jesus!” —Michael Card, (Scribbling in the Sand)

David Enyart said, “Frequently, creativity and imaginativeness are casualties of ministerial education. Ministers start to mistrust or ignore their own creative impulses; they come to view imagination as a child’s play toy rather than an essential tool for vibrant communication.” What a shame.

Mark Batterson wrote an article titled “Postmodern Wells.” In it, he said, “Don’t get me wrong: the message is sacred. But methods are not. And the moment we anoint our methods as sacred, we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory.” Are you doing ministry out of imagination or out of memory?

“Our imaginations are involved in every area of our lives, in everything we do or say or are. It is no wonder that God is so intent upon recapturing them. Therefore, we must seek to understand the imagination biblically, that is, Christ-centeredly.

The imagination is the bridge between the heart and the mind, integrating both, allowing us to think/understand with our hearts and feel/emote with our minds. It is a vehicle for truth. Through the use of images, metaphors, stories and paradoxes that demand our attention, it calls for our interaction. The imagination is a powerful means for communicating truths about God, and so God shows an awesome regard for the imagination in His word.

Because we are called to creativity, a working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital. It can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness. To harness the imagination, or better yet, to bring it under submission to Christ is something about which we don’t talk or pray or do enough.” – Michael Card (Scribbling in the Sand)

Michael Card, whom I respect, believes having a “working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital.” Not only this, he thinks it can be “our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.” Wow! What if you or someone on your team has this glaring weakness which has never been pointed out? What if you’re not tapping into the power of the imagination and your leadership, team, service, and ministry are suffering because of it? What if…?

“Creativity is part of God’s divine nature, and He has given it to us as a gift. Like so many of God’s gifts, creativity is often neglected or wrongfully used…Imagination is the first storytelling tool. To properly tell a story, you must see it in your mind.” —John Walsh, author of The Art of Storytelling

My prayer for pastors everywhere is that they become better and more effective communicators of the gospel. How have you used your words to paint a picture for your people? Is God speaking to you in this area and will you allow Him to tap into the power of the imagination of your congregation?

 

*** Some parts of this were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

Mobile website and phone_

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write later about the most common things I see when I do a church secret shopper consultation. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Why does this post have a picture of a mobile phone? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my upcoming book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Look for it this Fall.

  1. Communicate
  2. Connect
  3. Contribute
  4. Collaborate
All this can be done through the Church 2.0 Unifyer. There is a quick one-time registration (takes seconds) and then you’re in. You can sign up for the news feeds that interest you. Join and/or create groups that interest you and begin to share the joy of the 4 C’s.

So nice. Love Coca-Cola’s homepage. Very sharp stuff going on with Coke these days. YOU can design a Coca-Cola bottle HERE. Enjoy!

EXTRA:
Church 2.0 Local Forum – ATL goes down today from 10am to 2pm (EST). Direct Twitter me with your questions or topic suggestions. Pray that God moves here in this great city.